High Heels and Fishnets as Historical Discourse: Art Across the 5C’s Review
As a student at CMC, I often forget about the importance of art. Whenever I say that I’ve never taken an Econ class before (and have no burning desire to do so) I elicit an array of colorful, shocked responses. Yet, I have failed to encounter a similar type of outrage at CMC’s lack of emphasis surrounding theater, music, and applied art. To even access art-centric clubs and events, I frequently have to trek to Pomona and Scripps, often times, finding myself to be the only CMC student there. What troubles me about this phenomenon is not that many CMC students reject art, but rather don’t see it as a necessary component of education. In my opinion, art holds the capacity to elicit emotional, human responses to historical events that are impossible to find in textbooks. Throughout high school, I was heavily involved in the arts, whether that be running a satirical magazine, directing an improvisation troupe, or performing in a musical. Coming to college, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue dedicating as much of my time to the same things, and thus, I haven’t been as involved with theater. However, when a friend invited me to see "Cabaret" at Pomona with her, I experienced a small twinge of jealousy, thinking about how all of the cast members had probably spent the past few weeks in close proximity together, rehearsing their lines well into the night, practicing the same scene transitions over and over again in anticipation of the show. I even felt some regret.
Despite my theatrical background, I am largely uninformed about musical theater. I can’t confidently claim to know a vast array of obscure shows, nor even pretend to know of the "classics" I should be familiar with. I usually always found myself auditioning for musicals without actually having known them before the audition. This mindset held the potential to create a rather jarring experience, especially when forcing a poor dancer to learn an intensely complex dance break and perform it in auditions 15 minutes later. Yet, becoming acquainted with a show while you’re part of the cast is an intensely personal and rewarding experience.
Consistent with my high school ways, I hadn’t seen "Cabaret" and had little to no insight on its content. The only thing I did know about the play was that my improvisation/Theater/English teacher in high school would periodically announce, “We should be doing 'Cabaret' for the Spring musical; that is exactly what this town needs in this political climate,” usually followed by a forlorn, “but they would never put that show on.”
Entering Seaver Theatre, clutching my ticket stub and glossy program, I fielded an aisle seat that, in my naivety, I assumed was prime real estate. I seemed to have momentarily forgotten, however, that a myriad of elders and students would be forced to climb over me to get to their seats. More importantly, though, I had an unobscured view for what I hoped would be an invigorating afternoon of theatre.
As I sat through the performance, entranced by the glittered allure of high heels, fishnet stockings, and strippers of Berlin circa 1931, I was immersed in a different world. A socially conscious musical, "Cabaret" depicts the fall of Berlin. Once an artistic haven for vagabonds and misfits, the city becomes immersed in Nazi ideology as its influence splinters friendships and families.
Pomona’s production of "Cabaret" demonstrates the necessity of art to enhance empathy and challenge intellectual prenotions; the show served as a forceful medium to display the frightening synthesis of this era to the trends of the modern day.
As I left the theater, I had goosebumps. As my friend and I walked alongside the setting sun, wandering the terrain of Pomona’s campus, we couldn’t help but discuss the alarming sentiments of bigotry that manifested itself, subtly at first, in Nazi Germany. Bystanders, in effect, had allowed Nazis to come to power by turning a blind eye to the plight of their neighbors.
What does that translate to today? Are we, we wondered aloud, compliantly following a similar pattern? These questions tugged at me well into the remainder of the day and still continues to consume my thoughts. While I consider myself a largely compassionate person, I know that such a strong sense of urgency and discomfort would not come to ferment inside of me without having seen "Cabaret."
In short, CMC, theater is not merely a frivolous distraction from real life (i.e. “real” work) but rather a dynamic medium that holds the potential to leave a lasting intellectual impact on its participants. I strongly encourage all of my fellow CMCers to venture into the other Claremont Colleges to remind yourselves, like I did, of the role that art plays in educating the whole person.